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The search for nineteenth-century naturalization records can be one of the more frustrating aspects of genealogical research.
Researchers tracking down people who were naturalized in New England have an advantage, though. As a general rule, records in the National Archives have been created by federal agencies, and they are original records, not copies. During the Great Depression, many employment and relief opportunities were limited to citizens of the United States.
The Work Projects Administration used a dexigraph camera, shown here with operators and supervisors, to copy naturalization records from various courts in New England, New York, and Illinois before World War II halted the project. From the late 1930s until about 1961, the INS used these copies to document citizenship granted before 1907, whether it was of the actual petitioner or of the wife or child who derived citizenship. Two examples, taken from a 1940 report on the copying project, illustrate how the INS used the dexigraphs. A concurring report from the records management office declared that "any consolidation of records regarding naturalizations before September 27, 1906, will be helpful to genealogists and will furnish a wealth of materials for the sociologist and the historian. At Waltham these records constitute the most heavily used collection of records, both by on-site researchers and those requesting copies through the mail, e-mail, or telephone. This detail of a dexigraph photostat of Walter Hickey's 1853 Lowell, Massachusetts, police court naturalization petition is shown in its original negative form and a reversed version. The dexigraphs indicate that a person had been naturalized or at least had filed a petition.
In the dexigraph collection, the declarations of intention filed with the petitions were not filmed for most courts. The index to these dexigraphs has been microfilmed as NARA Microfilm Publication M1299, Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791–1906.
If a person is not found in the index, check other sources, such as the voter registration office in the community where the person resided, to discover the name of the court where he was naturalized.
Background on the WPA project to copy and index the New England court records, as well as the stories of Miss Y and Mr.
Evans Walker, chief of the Accession and Disposal Branch at the Boston Federal Records Center, wrote to Kenneth Munden, director of Archival Projects Division, Washington, DC, on January 27, 1964, about the disposal and rescue of the dexigraph copies. The contemporary reports regarding the disposition of the naturalization records are from memorandums prepared by the Boston regional director Alan E. Although the illustrations are of Massachusetts records, similar ones exist for the other New England states. M1285, Soundex Index to Naturalization Petitions for the United States District and Circuit Courts, Northern District of Illinois, and Immigration and Naturalization Service District 9, 1840–1950.
M1674, Index (Soundex) to Naturalization Petitions Filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts in New York, New York, Including New York, Kings, Queens, and Richmond Counties, 1792–1906. Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.


The National Archives–Northeast Region (Boston) has a unique set of records that brings together naturalization documents created in various New England courts. Anyone looking for work from the Work Projects Administration (WPA), for example, was required to prove U.S. Under this project, various courts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont made their naturalization records available to the INS. If the INS found a record, it then sent a form to the court holding the originals asking for verification of the data. Because they were copies, they were eligible for destruction, and the INS authorized the federal records center in Boston to destroy the dexigraphs. An appraisal archivist reported, "Before 1906 no centralized record of naturalizations was kept. The dexigraphs have value as security copies of court records often scattered and inaccessible. Even though these are copies, they are accessioned records and are handled as though they were originals. Nine of these courts are the federal circuit and district courts in the five states; 292 are state and local courts. Some petitions were denied for various reasons; others lapsed because the applicant never followed through. If a declaration was filed, the researcher should contact the original court to determine the existence of those papers.
Thanks to serendipity and some forward-thinking NARA archivists, this important collection still exists today for the use of all. Hickey is an archives specialist in the National Archives and Records Administration–Northeast Region (Boston) and has previously worked in the Pittsfield branch of the Northeast Region.
According to Walker, it appears likely that the boxes that were pulped contained the dexigraphs of records of the United States Circuit Court for Massachusetts as volumes of dexigraphs from that collection are missing. Gorham to the director of the Records Center Division, Office of Records Management, Washington, D.C.
Most courts, if indeed not all, recorded only the name of the person being naturalized—the head of household. Clerical staff then summarized critical data on index cards to create an index, and WPA workers copied the naturalization records using the dexigraph reproduction system. When she became too old to work and her savings dwindled, she was in danger of losing her home. One of his Canadian-born sons came to the United States to attend college, then returned to Canada, where he married and had a son.
Since naturalization proceedings could occur not only in federal courts, but also in state and local courts, the locating of a naturalization record is very difficult. It is not an exaggeration to say that these 301 courts used almost 300 forms and 300 filing systems.


Additionally, a record may contain the names and sometimes the addresses of the two witnesses. Other individuals did become citizens but later renounced their citizenship or otherwise had it taken away. This means the applicant was over eighteen when he arrived, and there should be a declaration of intention giving the name of the court and a date of filing. Indications of naturalization may be found in the census schedules of 1870 and 1900–1930. Sometimes a record will not be found even though a census schedule indicates a person was naturalized. Although the wife and children of foreign birth under twenty-one years old derived their own citizenship from the husband or father, their names were not mentioned at all in the final official record. The WPA started with New England, New York, and Illinois, but World War II halted the project before it could get to courts in other regions. This collection of copies of naturalization records for most of the New England area, and covering so large a span of years, has unique value.
For these reasons, the INS used the dexigraph as an indicator of citizenship and then checked with the court retaining the original record. Names of spouses and children are not required as they will not be mentioned in any of the records. This report is part of a series entitled Records of the Massachusetts Open House Week, 1940, in the Records of the Work Projects Administration (Record Group 69).
X later went to the United States to work, but the promised job required proof of American citizenship. Even in the absence of any personal information, a record may indicate that the petitioner was an honorably discharged veteran of the Civil War. A person who filed only a declaration of intention and never followed through with a petition will not be found in the index. Through the dexigraph copies of naturalization records, he was able to show that his grandfather had become a U.S. Naturalization records will not provide parents' names, nor will they provide the names of the wife and children of the petitioner. X and had resided in the United States, the grandson could claim American citizenship also.



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